Change is hard to do well — a lesson Google’s been learning all too well when it comes to wearables. The transition from Wear OS 2 to 3 has been messy, and so has the ongoing integration of Fitbit into Google’s greater ecosystem. On the eve of the Pixel Watch 2 and Fitbit Charge 6 shipping to customers, just as reviewers published their takes on the second-gen smartwatch, Fitbit suffered its second major app outage this year.
The outage was a doozy. Fitbit’s own status page has a lengthy breakdown, but the gist is that around 3PM ET on October 11th, roughly 50 percent of users who use Google accounts to log in to the site saw blank tiles and screens, error messages, and missing data. That escalated to 4 percent of all users an hour later, and then two hours in, nearly 90 percent of all Fitbit user interactions resulted in errors. The issue began to resolve for Fitbit users who don’t log in with Google accounts over eight hours after everything started. According to Fitbit, things mostly got back to normal a little after midnight, and “an underlying cause was an unexpected kind of resource exhaustion which caused requests between backend servers to fail.”
Fitbit doesn’t go into greater detail, but notably, the issue presented and resolved differently for those who log in with Fitbit accounts versus those who use Google accounts. All legacy Fitbit users will have to move their data over to a Google account by 2025, but it’s also a requirement if you upgrade to a new Fitbit or Pixel Watch 2. That migration process started earlier this summer, but it’s uncanny that “unexpected resource exhaustion” occurred just as customers received new devices that required them to migrate data. It also speaks to how bumpy the Google-Fitbit integration has been over the past year.
Earlier in February, Fitbit suffered a multiday server outage that interrupted syncing of data. That was shortly followed by an unpopular decision to eliminate longtime social features like Challenges, Adventures, and open groups. Recently, some Fitbit owners have complained that it doesn’t work with Google Workspace accounts or Fitbit guardian accounts (folks who manage Fitbits for their children). Google then announced the Fitbit app was getting a redesign with a more simplified layout featuring a refreshed Material You design language. That redesign rolled out a few weeks ago and, in the process, angered many longtime Fitbit customers because it erased and no longer counts step streaks without warning. For some, that meant losing years of streaks.
A more integrated Fitbit-Google experience is not inherently a bad thing. Last year’s Google wearable lineup was horribly jumbled precisely because the two companies weren’t integrated well. Fitbit’s Versa 4 and Sense 2 smartwatches lacked smart features, while the Pixel Watch lacked staple Fitbit features. That wasn’t as much of a problem when I reviewed the Pixel Watch 2, and the more cohesive integration significantly improved the experience. It wasn’t seamless, but it was enough progress to make me think Google has a real shot at winning the Android smartwatch space if it continues on this path.
Fitbit users never should’ve been surprised that step streaks were going away
But as I said in my review, the thing that could most derail Google’s wearable ambitions is managing this integration poorly. While Google has been communicative about some changes, it’s dropped the ball as well. Fitbit users never should’ve been surprised that step streaks were going away — that should’ve been communicated in the same way as the end of Challenges, Adventures, and open groups. While it is good that Google and Fitbit posted a detailed note about yesterday, the fact that it happened only exacerbates the other incidents this year that have left Fitbit users frustrated.
Like I said, change is hard. You’re never going to please everyone, and hiccups are to be expected. But Google’s acquisition of Fitbit was approved in January 2021. For every good change, unforced errors like these undermine progress. Repeated enough, understandable mistakes become established patterns that erode customer goodwill. That is an entirely avoidable problem.